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Best Musicals Based on Classic Books

Updated on August 11, 2013

Other Musicals Inspired by Classic Literature

If you like the musicals in this list, you'll also enjoy these, which are also based on classic literature:

  • West Side Story (based on Romeo and Juliet)
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel
  • Ragtime
  • Oliver! (based on Oliver Twist)
  • My Fair Lady (based on Pygmalion)

Broadway Musicals Based on Literature

When composers and lyricists are looking for inspiration to create the next Broadway musical smash, they often turn to stories that have stood the test of time: classic literature. In fact, some of Broadway's biggest blockbusters have come from some of the most beloved classic novels.

The benefits of basing a musical score around a classic? You already have a strong story, with great characters and a compelling plot.

Read on to learn about the best musicals based on classic literature.

"The Music of the Night" from "The Phantom of the Opera"

The Phantom of the Opera

"The Phantom of the Opera" is one of the most popular and longest-running musicals of all time. Originally, the novel by Frenchman Gaston Leroux was not popular; it was only upon Lon Chaney's film version and later Andrew Lloyd Weber's musical that it rose again to prominence in the ranks of classic literature.

"Phantom" tells the story of a scarred, emotionally warped genius who lives below the Paris opera house; he takes a young girl named Christina Daae under his tutelage and help her reach stardom. He is also in love with her, despite her romance with the vicomte, Raoul. Eventually, the Phantom kidnaps Christine and tries to force her into marriage--though in the end, he shows he has a good soul beneath his twisted face.

"The Phantom of the Opera" has legions of fans who love the romance, adventure, and memorable songs from the musical; if you're listening to it for the first time, make sure you pick up the cast recording with Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford.

A Scene from The Phantom of the Opera


Performance of "One Day More" at the Oscars

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Les Miserables

Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" is a sprawling masterpiece, another French novel that served as inspiration for one of the most popular musicals of all time. Though originally critically panned, the fans of the musical version didn't listen to the critics, and most recently "Les Mis" was adapted into a wildly popular movie starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway.

In "Les Miserables," Jean Valjean is jailed for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread, and when he decides to break parole and start a new life for himself, it begins a cat-and-mouse hunt across the decades as police inspector Javert refuses to let him be. Valjean eventually becomes mayor of a town, and when he realizes that turning away from a woman in his factory has resulted in her death and her child being cruelly raised by cold innkeepers, he takes the girl as his ward. When the girl falls in love with a young revolutionary, the story comes full circle and Valjean and Javert have their final confrontation.

"Les Miserables" is highly singable, and the tragedy mixed with romance makes it compellingly watchable.

Les Miserables Marquee


"Jane Eyre" at the Tonys

Jane Eyre

Though not a megahit like "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Les Miserables," the musical version of "Jane Eyre" is still a faithful and entertaining rendition of Charlotte Bronte's classic novel. It sticks closely to the book, from Jane Eyre's sad childhood to her final reunion with Mr. Rochester.

Jane, a plain orphan, is disliked by her Aunt Reed, who sends her to Lowood School--where she lives in a constant state of hunger and discomfort. Her only friend dies young, and when Jane finally reaches maturity she advertises herself as a governess and is hired at the foreboding Thornfield Hall. The master of the hall, Edward Rochester, begins to fall in love with Jane despite the difference in their social standing, and she returns his affection--until she discovers a terrible secret from his past that will keep them apart.

If you're not already a fan of "Jane Eyre," this musical might not be your favorite--but if you love the romantic story of Jane and Rochester, then you will certainly enjoy it!

Enjoying Musicals Based on Classic Literature

The musical is an American tradition, and watching your favorite musical live on stage or listening to a cast recording each offers its own rewards.

What's your favorite musical? Is it based on a book?


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    • LastRoseofSummer2 profile image

      LastRoseofSummer2 4 years ago from Arizona

      It has always amazed me that The Phantom of the Opera was not popular when it was first published. But then again I'm rather prejudiced because it is my favorite book!

      I have seen Les Mis live and it is absolutely fabulous! The Victor Hugo novel is great too (even though it is a bit long!).

    • Abby Campbell profile image

      Abby Campbell 4 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      I have seen Les Miserables on Broadway, but I would love to see My Fair Lady as I loved the old movie Pygmalion. Thank you for a wonderful hub, Erica! :-)